In my favourite music festival back home in Melbourne, there’s a moment of audience communion where everyone removes one shoe and holds it above their head, awarding ‘The Boot’ by mass consensus to the festival’s best performance. It may have only been a few hours into Melt!, but after Nicolas Jaar’s set last night, I’m raising my entire shoe collection in toast to that terrifyingly young and talented New Yorker.
Running more than 45 minutes late thanks to seemingly infinite tuning and sound tech issues, perhaps not helped by Jaar’s reputation as a 21-year-old man who takes his music very seriously, Jaar was shaking his head in frustration, though thanking the crowd for their patience.
As the music finally started, the classically trained musician in a suave black leather jacket and jeans landed, knees bent, butt grooving, and the crowd immediately blissed out then proceeded to lose their shit as the warbling bass throbbed like an electric ripple through bodies to a backdrop of swirling Technicolor snow and above, the sun setting pink behind the clouds.
Jaar’s music is intimate, smart and fluid, grabbing your mind and body in rapturous embrace and hitting something innate, with sweet calypso tones and hints of melancholy that make you move, but yet still isn’t quite suited for the dance floor.
Playing tracks mostly from his brilliant album Space Is Only Noise, Jaar delves into the territory of James Blake introverted beats. At moments he sounds like Sigur Rós for the clubs. Crafted from his laptop, various knobs and fiddles, synth, drums, electric guitar and sax, all bound by Jaar’s genius mind for composition, tracks slip between genres – and rhythms, mixing slower instrumentals with long, yearning sax solos to songs like the closer "Space Is Only Noise If You Can See", which turned into his only real dance number via the soul-worm chant, “Grab a calculator and fix yourself”. If this is the future of music, we’ll all happily be barefoot.
After that, I spent the night fritting between acts, but post-Jaar, nothing could really hold my attention; Gothenburg’s Little Dragon played some enjoyable but ultimately forgettable tracks from their new album, outshone by lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s glow-in-the-dark orange nail polish.
Berlin’s Apparat Band – like the post-rock of Explosions In The Sky raised under Berlin strobe lights – brought the big stadium sound with moments of “haunting” Coldplay-like riffs that felt a little staid.
London’s Gold Panda appeared as a hooded silhouette behind his laptop, sandwiched by gung-ho speaker stacks whose bass almost drowned out the gorgeous textures of his songs.
And while surveying the sardine thick crowds enjoying Robyn at the Bench Mainstage, it was clear that she’s a talented lass bringing some much-needed smarts to the pop world, but after such earlier genre-bending, felt stuck within the dull house rules of what makes chart-friendly radio.
Around 1:00, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam plus his eight-strong and equally beardy band took Intro Zelt, a red curtained stage that began to feel like a late night jazz den with all the cigarette smoke, long jammed-out instrumentals and sudden abundance of balding middle-aged men practicing their critical nods amongst the crowd. Having lost much of the acoustic falsetto that almost saw the moniker renamed Iron & Whine, Beam’s accomplished songmanship and rich, warm voice glowed next to the thicker sound, enriched by his accompanying troupe of flute, sax, banjo and guitars.
Taking the shuttle bus back to camp, intentions of re-fuelling gave way to fatigue, while the shuttle coming back the other way from the camps dropped off the ecstatic party-goers, headed off to dance the morning away to Paul Kalkbrenner, Boyz Noize and Gui Boratto, and I fell into my sleeping bag, realising at the same moment we’d set up tent in a ditch.